substitution addictions

Avoiding Substitute Addictions in Recovery

Published on November 15, 2019 by First Responder Wellness

While sobriety can be exhilarating and freeing in many respects, it also comes with its fair share of challenges and common pitfalls. Many people who are new to recovery tend to float along on “the pink cloud”. This period can include the first several weeks or months after treatment. Life can feel intensely hopeful and positive, and it may seem like nothing can go wrong. However, inevitably, life will present you with challenges, whether they be unexpected substance cravings or outside stressors that contribute to poor mental health. At this point, people in recovery tend to falter. Most commonly, they relapse or pick up a substitute addiction. Substitute addictions are a way for your brain to find a new source of those feel-good neurotransmitters you were once stimulating with substances. Many people with drug or alcohol addictions discover that they begin participating in other types of compulsive behavior in sobriety. While many of these behaviors are less severe than drug and alcohol abuse, they can affect your quality of life and contribute to the overall detriment of your mental health. Successfully avoiding substitute addictions in recovery is essential to ensuring mental wellness and preventing subsequent behavioral issues.

Types of Substitute Addictions

There are endless possibilities when it comes to behavioral addictions. A replacement addiction can occur any time a behavior is activating the reward system in a way that results in a compulsion. However, there are a few behaviors that are considered the most common among individuals with substance use disorders. Binge eating is typical behavior in this group, as the brain can learn to use food the same way it once used substances. Eating in excess, especially when consuming foods high in fat and sugar, can stimulate the same circuits in the brain as drugs and alcohol. People are especially susceptible to falling into an unhealthy relationship with sweets because sugar has the added characteristic of being physically addictive.

Additionally, many people find a replacement addiction in shopping. We have all had the experience of buying something for ourselves or someone else to improve our mood. This behavior can become very problematic if it becomes a compulsion. Spending money stimulates the reward system in the brain as well, and some individuals become addicted to the feeling of purchasing things. Falling into a destructive shopping habit is easier now that we can all shop online at any time. Unfortunately, a shopping addiction can become extremely serious, threatening a person’s financial stability and family life. Other common substitute addictions include exercise, sex, and gambling. All of these behaviors are acceptable, and perhaps even healthy when done in moderation. It is when behavior becomes compulsive and extreme that it can take a significant toll on your mental health and the lives of the people around you.

Avoiding and Overcoming New Addictions

The first step in avoiding substitute addictions is informing yourself and your loved ones about this recovery issue. Keep an eye out for signs of problematic behavior. If you pay attention, your intuition can tell you when a response is becoming unhealthy or threatening your mental health. Maybe you have always shopped online, but you suddenly find yourself shopping at odd hours. You’re hiding your purchases from loved ones and applying for credit cards you don’t need. At this point, your behavior is most likely becoming a problem. The way you feel when participating in a behavior can clue you in as well. People who develop behavioral addictions often report feeling out of control or euphoric during the activity. Afterward, they often feel a deep sense of guilt and shame when, much like the highs and lows of alcohol and drug use.

For those who have completed a treatment program for substance use disorder, it is essential to take advantage of all the resources offered to you for continuing care. You should also reach out for additional support if needed. Staying on top of your recovery work even when you are feeling secure in your sobriety can go a long way in preventing substitute addictions. It is normal to crave an outlet in life. Quitting drugs or alcohol often makes users feel as if there is a void that needs to be filled by a new vice. The truth is that even the healthiest individuals find outlets to work through emotional and mental hardships. Healthy people are just able to do so in a manner that doesn’t harm themselves or others. Explore new ways to combat stress by exercising regularly, meditating, or doing something creative. The key to mental wellness is balance, and addiction and mental health experts are there to support you in achieving that balance for your long-term recovery journey.

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career. Nor do you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.

At Simple Recovery, we take a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction. This approach makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community. At Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we dedicate our time to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.